'Transculturations and Transactions (full title in summary)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Fine Art History of Art&Cult Stud


Project Title: 'Transculturations and Transactions: from 'curios' to 'specimens', Colonialism, Empire and the role of the art market in the development of the collections of Henry S. Wellcome, 1880-1940

Much of the existing literature on Henry Wellcome places him and his desire for a complete typological museum at the centre of the discussion- viewing the Historical Medical Museum collections only through his lens and that of selected staff. In this biographical approach, the presence of the art market, auction houses and colonial trade routes are often just within reach, yet remain largely in the shadows.
My approach to this project will facilitate a vital expansion of this, reappraising the many layers of people objects, networks and marketplaces that had agency in this endeavour- challenging the notion that the objects themselves, or the context and terms of their collection, sale, and acquisition are neutral. I anticipate that one of the most exciting elements of this project will also be one of its greatest challenges navigating the breadth of Wellcome's ethnographic/art/archive collections alongside the interdisciplinary possibilities they encompass. I would take my previous experience and knowledge as inspiration to direct the proposed project, exploring the validity of re-centering those who supplied and fuelled these marketplaces. I will interrogate the archive in unison, analysing and linking auction catalogues, registers and correspondence cohesively, rather than as discrete collections. Questioning the power of these sites and individuals through the objects that moved between them, the deals made and the language used to communicate their value ('curio', 'specimen', 'artwork', 'artefact', 'specimen'), will both enrich
existing studies and identify future areas of study intersecting the art market, the Historical Medical Museum and sites of origin. By reuniting these collections with their earlier roles as collectable
commodities, embedded in colonial thinking and, possibly, art historical hierarchies, we can truly begin to consider their stories and values; highlighting whether the power structures underlying their survival in museums today are fairly represented in our understanding and interpretation of them.


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